The smell of fresh-cut grass, the crack of the ball off of the bat, the cleats clapping on the sidewalk like a bizarre sort of show pony parade, and the warm (Arizona/Florida) sun beating down. Pitchers and catchers make their annual return to (city) today, the official start of Spring Training. For the (team) and 29 other clubs, hope once again springs eternal.
Spring Training provides an opportunity for fans to view the lesser-seen pieces and dream upon the futures of players yet to take a single at-bat for the big league squad, but could dramatically alter the franchise’s trajectory. It’s escapism from the realities of an organization that has branded themselves as “snake-bit,” and that fans have seen as underwhelming. So, just hours from first pitch and the beginning of the 2014 season, here’s a look back at five days of (mostly) rampant optimism in the desert.
When parents plan their son or daughter’s first trip to Spring Training, they likely envision parcels of perfectly manicured grass. Sun-kissed mornings where millionaire ballplayers and long shots share a field and play a game with the same childlike wonder and enthusiasm that they hope, one day, their own child will possess. My son’s first Spring Training started a bit differently, as a complete stranger challenged me to a fight at Terminal 4 of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport. In the end, it’s all about creating memories. So begins our journey.
That didn’t stop me from watching a few spring training games. I saw two in person and three or four on MLB.tv, depending on whether you count the parts where I fell asleep.
I also saw some backfield practice sessions, although not as many as I’d have liked. If you ever go to spring training, be sure to hit those and watch the prospects do drill after drill as they hone their craft. For me, the practices are better than the games.
Anyway, I took notes:
Last Friday night, I had the privilege of taking part in the 2nd (annual?) Bloggers Takeover with Fox Sports San Diego. During the takeover, they give the bloggers a chance to chat about blog-gerly type things for a couple of innings during a Padres Spring Training game. Last year I was joined by 3 fellow Padres Public members Geoff (Son of a Duck), Mike (Padres Trail) and David (Vocal Minority) and also Brady from Lobshots. This year I was the lone Padres Public representative and was joined by Brady, once again, along with Dex from Gaslamp Ball and Steve from Friarhood.
Join me on our journey!
It’s weird how some people gauge success. For example, if I manage to not ruin my clothes while doing laundry I’m patting myself on the back for a job well done.
I think the best way to determine success is by managing expectations. As Padres fans, we haven’t had much to look forward to the last several years. Sure, there are always a few players on the roster who genuinely bring excitement (looking at you, Chase <3), but for the most part it’s a collection of talent that leaves much to be desired.
This year’s different, or so we’re being told. There’s legitimacy all over the Padres roster, enough for many baseball writers I respect and read regularly to call them this year’s “sleeper team”. They’re good, or at least have the upside to be really good. Many of us here at Padres Public think they could be an 85-90 win team… if they can stay healthy (sorry).
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, what should we consider a successful Padres season?
Let’s get this out of the way: The Padres aren’t firing Bud Black.
First, they (unnecessarily) exercised the club options on his contract for 2014 and 2015. He’s safe through at least this season. You’re excited, I can tell. Second, there’s no obvious replacement already on the coaching staff. Third, that’s baseball.
With that said, let’s have some fun with hypotheticals.
Let’s say the Padres get off to a bad start. I don’t mean just a terrible record (we’ve seen that), I’m talking shit body language and players openly questioning Bud’s leadership. Everybody loves Bud, so the latter may be a stretch*.
* It’s a hypothetical – let’s get crazy!
This is where we gather from time to time to talk about something big in the Padres world or just the Padres or just baseball. It’s a roundtable discussion. Except, you know, no round tables. This is a Public House . . . so we’re at the bar.
With recent injuries to Chase Headley and Cameron Maybin the organization’s depth is being tested early and often. Fortunately it is only March, but as the Padres push towards opening day, a legitimate question presents itself:
Who can the Padres least afford to lose in 2014?
In 1973’s Magnum Force, Clint Eastwood uttered this memorable line as inspector Harry Callahan:
Man’s got to know his limitations.
I don’t think Cameron Maybin is familiar with this quote. Or maybe he is familiar with the film but he doesn’t believe the sentiment on account of his supreme athleticism. I tend to lean towards the latter.
Cameron Maybin probably doesn’t believe in limitations of any sort as it pertains to his feats on the baseball diamond. Oh, I know he said that he would limit his reckless abandon when he spoke to Darren Smith last week but did anyone honestly believe him? It’s very difficult to just turn things off when you are endowed with amazing abilities and possess a determination to shine. Cameron Maybin wants to shine, wants to be the guy in San Diego. Unfortunately Cameron Maybin doesn’t know his limitations and he now finds himself sidelined for the next few months with a ruptured left biceps tendon.
I witnessed the injury first hand during the split squad game at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers on Sunday. Four things immediately flashed through my mind when the ball flew off Juan Uribe‘s bat:
Fresh off a trip to Peoria, Arizona to watch the Padres maneuver their way through spring, our very own Geoff Young hooked up with Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus to preview the 2014 season.
The format of the Effectively Wild podcast previews is to talk about the team with one person who had a hand in the writing of the Baseball Prospectus 2014 annual (Geoff Young) as well as another person covering the team, such as a beat-writer or broadcaster. As such, the latter half of the podcast includes mlb.com’s Corey Brock who has spent the last two weeks in Peoria with the team.
Unfortunately the preview comes on the heels of the Cameron Maybin shoulder strain Sunday afternoon, so the discussion includes the customary injury talk that has become all too familiar with the Padres.
But it’s not just doom and gloom during this fifty minute preview!
Last week, Cameron Maybin was doing the media rounds at Spring Training. We were hearing the usual from a guy coming back from injury, but one thing that stuck out to me was his stated desire to be more cautious in the outfield. I’ve never thought of Cam as a particularly reckless player, and I grew concerned that his injury history was getting in his head. I had this weird notion I couldn’t shake that Cam was going to change his style of play and that was going to be detrimental to his defensive value. And then, yesterday, he went and gave the same effort he always does. He made the same kind of play demonstrating the glove and range that makes him a plus defender at a position which prioritizes good defense. He dove and hurt himself, inconveniencing me and throwing my plans out the window. Cameron Maybin is the worst.